Friday, August 22, 2014

Origami Solar Array Prototype

After two years of research, the space agency has come closer to that goal by creating a solar array with a diameter of 8.9ft (2.7 metres) when folded and 82ft (25 metres) when unfurled.

The design, which looks like a flower blooming, was created by Nasa mechanical engineer, Brian Trease.
Mr Trease partnered with researchers at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, to pursue the idea that spacecraft could be built using origami folds.
Sending the solar arrays up to space would be easy, Mr Trease said, because they could all be folded and packed into a single rocket launch, with 'no astronaut assembly required.'
Panels used in space missions already incorporate simple folds, collapsing like a fan or an accordion.

One technique that has been used for an origami-inspired solar array is called a Miura fold invented by Japanese astrophysicist Koryo Miura.

When you open the structure, it appears to be divided evenly into a checkerboard of parallelograms.

With this particular fold, there's only one way to open or close it: Pull on one corner and the whole thing is open with only a tiny amount of effort.

Mr Miura intended this fold for solar arrays, and in 1995 a solar panel with this design was unfolded on the Space Flyer Unit, a Japanese satellite.
The fold that Mr Trease and colleagues used is not a Miura fold, but rather a combination of different folds.

Mr Trease's prototype looks like a blooming flower that expands into a large flat circular surface.

Mr Trease envisions that foldable solar arrays could be used in conjunction with small satellites called CubeSats.

And he says the origami concept could be used in antennas as well. It could be especially appropriate for spacecraft applications where it's beneficial to deploy an object from the centre, outward in all directions.

Origami was originally intended for folding paper, which has almost no thickness, so Mr Trease and colleagues had to be creative when working with the bulkier materials needed for solar panels.

'You have to rethink a lot of that design in order to accommodate the thickness that starts to accumulate with each bend,' he said.

The art has been the subject of serious mathematical analysis only within the last 40 years, Mr Trease said.

There is growing interest in integrating the concepts of origami with modern technologies.

'You think of it as ancient art, but people are still inventing new things, enabled by mathematical tools,' he said.
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